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True Detective Season Two Review

"An Over-Stuffed Season of Missed Opportunities "

When I stepped away from writing weekly True Detective reviews a month ago, I did so because I just couldn’t handle spending an hour each week recounting all the ways I was disappointed with this season of the show. I said that I didn’t expect things to improve to the point where I would regret my decision, and that if the show somehow had a miraculous turn-around, I would pop back in and write something up detailing the change. Since this is my first crack at a True Detective review since then, well, you can guess my general thoughts on the remainder of the season.

So, rather than spend another 700 words listing the ways this season disappointed, I thought I would go through a few lessons that can be learned from the failings of season two of True Detective, and offer a few suggestions for how Nic Pizzolatto might be able to right these wrongs when HBO inevitably renews the show for a third season (despite the general ire directed at this season, the nature of the series and this season’s ratings were still high enough to justify a renewal).

Let’s start with the most glaring issue this season: the story was far too broad, with far too many characters, to be served within an eight-episode season. What made season one work (until it went a bit off the rails at its end) was its laser-like focus on Marty and Rust. Yes, there were trade-offs with that approach, namely that all supporting characters had the depth of tissue paper, but having two complex characters to care about worked a great deal better than the alternative we were presented with this season. I would rather watch two gifted actors sink their teeth into deep characters than watch several desperately try to mine some sort of depth from poorly constructed ones. Imagine how good Colin Ferrell and Rachel McAdams could have been if they were given characters with the complexities of Rust and Marty? Considering what they were able to bring to the table with Ray and Ani, it would have been like watching a master class.


Shaving down the number of leads not only allows the show to dive deeper into the characters, it also allows the show time to flesh out and build the season’s mystery. Imagine the season without Woodrough’s storyline, or with no scenes of Frank dealing with infertility. Now, dedicate that time to learning more about the actual conspiracy in the government of Vinci. Maybe even learning the names of all the players. In this fantasy world, we wouldn’t spend weeks talking about poor Stan, or learning why Nails (and yes, that’s how the show actually spells it) got his scar. Think of all the time left to build this world from the ground up. Instead of hearing second or third-hand about actions, we can see them happen. The premise of the second season wasn’t what was flawed this year, it was the execution. And that can be remedied with a radical idea: don’t let Pizzolatto steer the ship on his own in season three.

Now, I’m not sure how feasible this idea is, since it is Pizzolatto’s baby, but if we look at the evidence, it’s clear that he needs other writers around him to help steer the ship. We’ve seen how the story and characters can get away from him in two iterations of the series now (even though season two was the more egregious of the two), and there is no guarantee that additional writers will be able to right the ship should the show start floundering in season three. But at this point, it can’t hurt to have a few more voices in a writers room calling out ideas and characters that don’t quite work. And as lovely as Pizzolatto’s distinctive dialogue was coming from the mouth of Matthew McConaughey, this season proved that it takes a particular person to be able to deliver it. Adding a few more voices into the writing process would allow scripts to be tailored to better suit the actors in a given season rather than using the “one size fits all” approach that did not work this year.


And last, but certainly not least, I hope that season three is set in a more complex locale than the highways of California. Remember season one of the show, how Louisiana was the show’s third lead? The use of the Louisiana landscape heightened the action, and created such a pervasive ambiance that we were fully transported into that dark dangerous world of the strange every Sunday night. This year, until Frank’s final walk through the desert (which didn’t work from a story perspective at all, but did manage to finally ground the season in its locale for the first time), California was largely absent. Yes, we were given a whole host of helicopter shots of roads and cars, but there wasn’t a sense of what makes California special. Why was this story set here, when it could have been anywhere else in the world? There was no sense of why Vinci was special, why we needed to be here to tell this story. And for a show that spends as much time as this one talking about its location, we need to better understand why here, why now.

I am walking away from this season with regret. It could have been so much better. Ferrell and McAdams have the chops to handle this type of material (and my one hope is that film studios can look through the dreck of the season and see both actors deserve shots at playing excellent roles in the future), and given normal dialogue, Vince Vaughn could have been just fine in a much smaller role (Taylor Kitsch, I fear, has only proven he can’t grow beyond Tim Riggins). Will Pizzolatto learn from this year’s critiques and shake things up for next year? Perhaps. I am not holding out a great deal of hope though. After all, time is a flat circle.

  • Ferrell and McAdams were great
  • Story remained a mess
  • Dialogue was laughable

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  • Irish Jim

    I agree that this season was a mess. There were too many characters and I couldn’t figure out who people were. I thought the last 2 episodes were better, but still not good.

    The Taylor Kitsch character didn’t add anything to the story except a convoluted story line over his confusion over his sexual identity and relationships with his Mom and girlfriend. I don’t think it added anything to the story.

    We finally got Vince Vaughn some interesting lines and a coherent story line. To have him killed by the Mexicans at the last minute was very unsatisfying. I was never really sure why the Mexicans were in the story to begin with. How did they find Vince? Did the guys who gave him the passport turn on Vince? Would he have survived if he just didn’t ask for a ride back to town? I assume the diamonds were in the suit, so he couldn’t give it to them. Couldn’t he have just said “It won’t fit you I am too tall.”

    Colin Farrell going to see the kid was predictable, but also stupid. Then, taking them to the middle of no where for the shoot out was stupid. So the bad guys killed Vince and Colin and got all of the money except for the diamonds.

    If the Mayor’s kid was the big boss, why wasn’t he at the meeting where the Russian got killed?

    What ever happened to McAdams’ Father and Sister? I know they were supposed to go into hiding, but they didn’t finish their story. Was there a real reason for her Father in the story?

    All of the “sympathetic” male characters were killed – Vince, Colin, Taylor and the son of the murdered jewelers. They all had major flaws and everyone but Taylor murdered people, but they were more sympathetic that the other scum in the story.

    At the end, McAdams reminded me of Sarah Connor at the end of Terminator. She goes off with her son and guns to hide while the world ends. I thought it was a very unsatisfying ending.

    • RK

      @Critic & @Irish Jim

      Just as every1 else neither of you committed to the Fact this season was never gonna be like TD1 & you never bought in, which impedes your viewing experience & criticism. I very much enjoyed TD2 for the experience it was, very LA noir, very “LA Confidential” with some small samplings of “Street Kings” sprinkled in. I think all this bogus, junk criticism of TD2 proves is that the majority of every1 (perhaps 90%+) couldn’t Accept or buy into the concept of an “Anthology” series. So almost every1 tuned in expecting “No Country for Old Men” & was underwhelmed when they got “The Counselor”… or tuned in expecting “The Dark Knight” & was disappointed when they got “The Dark Knight Rises”. Perhaps it just proves that the herd was more entertained by Souther Gothic suspense-horror true crime story than LA neo-noir true crime story… or maybe as Ray might “am I just whistlin Dixie”. While I agree & put TD2 behind TD1, it is still Very Entertaining & worth watching & I’d put it ahead of So Much other crap that is put out on almost any media form presently. TD2 is getting “Homeland-ed” if any1 reading this recalls what the herd said about that show after season1… It Is “en vogue” to rip on & claim 1 is “hate-watching” TD2… Absurd. TD2 is quality, a cut above 70%-80% of the rest of the crap alternatives out there… don’t be a follower, screw the herd. 1 can do Far Worse than watch TD2, trust me. Commit that it isn’t TD1 & Let It Entertain You.

      • Irish Jim

        We disagree then. I didn’t like much of Season 2. I didn’t think it was good television.

        The characters were not interesting or likable. I didn’t care about them. The story was convoluted. There were too many characters who not developed. The bad guys won. Colin Ferrell and Rachel McAdams were pretty good together, although I am not sure I buy the love story between them.

        I liked Season 1, but mostly because McConaughey and Harrelson are terrific actors who provided excellent performances. Woody’s wife was quite good too.

        Otherwise the Season 1 story was also convoluted. The killer turned out to be pretty ordinary, certainly no mastermind. I thought they were chasing Professor Moriarity or Hannibal Lecter. He was more like a mean version of Lennie from Of Mice and Men.

        The long speeches given by McConaughey were mostly gibberish. Still Season 1 was good television.

        Season 2 was bad television brought to us by a writer who thinks he is too smart for the rest of us.

Meet the Author

About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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